The Ming Voyages: Treasure and Conquest for 2 players

The Ming Voyages is one of our new Pocket Campaigns games. It’s the closest to the first Pocket Campaign, The Cousins’ War. David J Mortimer and I designed it as a different take on the multi-use cards and separate dice-based battle system introduced in the earlier game.

The Ming Voyages box 3D

The Ming Voyages box 3D

The initial idea was that an asymmetric 2-player game would be very interesting, in contrast to simply drawing from the same deck and having identical starting positions. The Ming Emperor starts with 3 cards and draws 2 cards per round creating a hand of 5 cards. The Barbarain Overlord starts with 4 cards and draws none. Players swap hands when each one has played a single card. Then, rinse and repeat.

As in The Cousins’ War, a player can use a valid action in their opponent’s turn, and part of the game is to limit the efficacy of these extra reactions. For the Ming Emperor, the added complication is that only actions keyed to completed voyages – each voyage being numbered – can be used as reactions. For the Barbarian Overlord, the least powerful cards have no useable action at all (they can only be used for 1 Command Point on the Overlord’s own turn), and many reactions are positional, so may not always be available. This is balanced by a number of cards whose power for the Barbarians is increased when the Ming have completed 4 voyages.

Examples of cards from The Ming Voyages, near-final artwork

Examples of cards from The Ming Voyages, near-final artwork

This new system enables each player, particularly the Ming Emperor to seed the opponent’s hand with cards that might contain actions useful to the non-active player as reactions. The thematic background to this idea was that the Chinese, throughout their Imperial history and including during the Ming dynasty, used Imperial personnel, agents, traders, courtiers and ambassadors to penetrate into the ‘lands of the barbarians’ (basically, any non-Chinese was a barbarian). Besides the usual rounds of negotiations and trading relations, the Chinese had networks of spies and gift-giving officials, whose purpose was to discover the aims and intentions of potentially hostile peoples beyond their borders. Gifts of silk and other luxuries were bestowed on chieftains and rulers in order to bind them to the Chinese economy, and thereby ward off aggression; at least in theory. From these historical traits, we developed the notion that only the Ming Emperor draws cards, and they effectively choose within limits what cards the Barbarian Overlord receives. At the least they know what’s in the Barbarian Overlord’s hand. The Ming Emperor can take cards out of the stream of cards given to the Barbarian Overlord by playing cards into their reserve, or by timing the use of cards to minimise the Overlord’s ability to take advantage of actions during the Ming turn. The Barbarian Overlord can also do this, but to a more limited degree, because their hand is only what they’ve received from the Ming.

Although it might seem that the Barbarian Overlord is weaker, in fact, besides the obvious attack cards that enable them to invade and conquer Chinese Borderlands, they have many cards that can impact on the Ming’s ability to set sail on voyages by raiding for gold and by disrupting the ocean-going junks. In addition, only the Barbarian Overlord can use Command Points from their reserved cards to reinforce their normal CP actions. Where a normal CP action can produce an attack of 3 Horde pieces, this can be increased to a potentially devastating 6 Hordes using reinforcements.

The Ming Emperor can win a major and immediate victory by completing all 7 treasure voyages. But pressure from the Barbarians on the borders cannot be ignored, because the Barbarian Overlord can win a major and immediate victory by conquering all 5 Chinese Borderlands. If neither player can achieve their major victory, a minor victory is awarded from the number of voyages completed plus Borderlands controlled (for the Ming Emperor) and the number of voyages not completed plus Borderlands controlled (for the Barbarian Overlord). The Overlord wins a tie, so the Ming Emperor has to be resourceful.

Players operate the battle sub-system with our signature 3 dice each side to resolve invasions and defensive counter-attacks. Rather than bluffing, as in The Cousins’ War, in this version the attacker rolls their 3 dice first, and chooses whether to use reserved cards to re-roll. You can spend each CP on reserved cards for one re-roll of any number of your dice, the target being to get the best triple, double or single that you can muster. Then, once the attacker has finished, the defender rolls their dice similarly, and can also use reserved cards to re-roll. As in the earlier game, a better triple beats an inferior triple, a better double beats a double and a better single beats a single (ties are re-rolled); these result in the loser removing 1 Troop or Horde. However, triples beat doubles, and doubles beat singles – but these are Devastating Blows and the loser removes 2 pieces. Battles continue until only one side occupies the Borderland, so they can be bloody affairs. Of course, as in The Cousins’ War, the luck of the dice can play a part. This wouldn’t be war without a chance element, and you have to take into account in your tactics and strategy that you might unluckily lose or fortunately win.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for The Ming Voyages. If you’d like to know a bit more, Paul Grogan @ Gaming Rules! will be doing a live tutorial and playthrough of The Ming Voyages on Thursday 13 February at 2pm. Please feel free to join us!

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